Version tested: PlayStation 2
To get noticed in a genre as saturated as the dear old first-person shooter, you've got to do things a little differently; mess with people's preconceptions, give them new toys to play around with, and challenge them with canny enemies that surprise us,
It's not enough to expect people to be wowed by incremental advancements, be they technology, AI or even narrative related, and damn the game to hell that dares to stand still. And if you really are going to make just another shooter, for pity's sake at least play the technology card so emphatically that we're prepared to forgive it for being just another shooter.
But in making Urban Chaos (originally known by the less than promising moniker of Roll Call) Rocksteady didn't really worry too much about raising any bars, cutting any edges or various other hideous, life-threatening clichés that may involve envelopes and boxes. Commendably, the Brit studio appears to have ducked the issue altogether by - ulp - doing things a little differently to everyone else. To our eternal gratitude, it's not a poor man's Half-Life 2. It's definitely not trying to be Doom, and Warren Spector wouldn't want to be seen dead anywhere near it.
So what is it, then?
By accident or design, Urban Chaos feels charmingly old fashioned; not in a studied Serious Sam/ Painkiller-type way, but more like how you'd imagine first-person shooters could have been if Taito had taken its excellent light gun games like Operation Wolf and Space Gun off the rails. Whether intentional or not, anyone familiar with these crusty old arcade relics will recognise more than a gentle nod to the past. A past where unlocks, upgrades and medals are a means to an end, and short, sharp levels were meant to be replayed until you nailed things perfectly. The last time we played a shooter as unselfconsciously fun was the legendary light gun section of Die Hard Trilogy. That's not to say it's in that league, but the feel and the vibe is hewn from the same rock. It just wants to entertain.
Needless to say, you're one of the good guys sent in to see off the bad guys (the terrorist Burner gang). Intent on laying waste to half of the city seemingly just because they can, these hockey-mask-wearing goons lob moltovs, chuck cleavers at your skull, squirt flamethrowers, wield chainsaws and basically provide extreme aggression at all times. We suspect the parents of a troubled gang of death metal warriors simultaneously really pissed them off one evening by asking them how they were getting on with their revision. Before you know it, an entire city is in flames, innocents are being taken hostage and Lori West is reporting on the sorry events live for Channel 7 news.
Evidently, only the untested 'T-Zero' anti-terror squad can combat this bunch of slavering psychos, so it's up to you, Nick Mason, to assist the emergency services, rescue hostages and generally fire a lot of hot lead at hundreds of extremely aggressive and hilariously foolish perps willing to die for some entirely misguided cause. But that's videogaming for you. [Among other things. - Ed]
Medals of honour
Although based on well-worn FPS mechanics, medal attainment is as much a central feature of your endeavours as the killing spree that inevitably ensues. Each level gives the player a multitude of sub goals to go for alongside the main tasks, including rewards for a set number of head shots, secret gang mask pick-ups, along with medals for bringing down the level's gang leader alive, not using any continues or taking down the required number of gang members via arrest rather than simply gunning them down.
As you gradually clock up the medals after each level, new weapon upgrades get added to your arsenal, while bringing in gang leaders alive unlocks up to six brief against-the-clock 'Emergency' sub-missions to add to the 11 main story missions. Although it's not exactly the longest game ever made, it's fair to argue that it's one that doesn't outstay its welcome either, and the plethora of unlockables makes it one of the few FPSs you'll be tempted to replay in order to secure all the goodies on offer. Whether it's focusing on rescuing injured civilians from flaming wrecks, protecting emergency personnel, or engaging in the cat and mouse hostage situations, Urban Chaos always delivers punchy, bite-sized tasks where time is of the essence.
Rescuing hostages, for instance, features an interesting dynamic where the player must draw their riot shield and deflect the enemy shots while waiting for a window of opportunity in which to strike back. As soon as the enemy stops to reload, the action slows down for a few seconds to allow you to get a bead on them and chip away at their health. Get too close and you'll spook the aggressor into killing the hostage, meaning you have to work at parrying shots for a few clips before your inevitable moment of slow-mo death glory arrives.